Recently the New York Times interviewed Kathy Savitt, "founder and C.E.O. of Lockerz, a social networking and e-commerce site" (The Dangers of Cynicism at the Office, December 4, 2010, interview by Adam Bryant). I found her comments and attitude towards "corporate culture" and hiring most edifying in particular with regard to identifying corrosive practices and behaviours, which from my experience are rarely corrected and at minimum unfortunately tolerated. Here are some excerpts.
Q. How do you hire?
A. I put a very high premium on intelligence and a very high premium on wit in general, which is different from intelligence alone. It’s not enough just to have I.Q. You actually have to have active listening skills and to talk to people and really want to communicate with someone.
And Rule No. 1 is no jerks, no divas. Somebody could be the most brilliant, most experienced person in the world. But life is too short, and that kind of person can also plant that first seed of cynicism in a company.
Q. What questions do you ask in a job interview?
A. Some of the questions I ask all the time include, what did you love most about the work you just finished doing? And if you could design your life in terms of work, what would that job actually be? If you could take 100 percent of your abilities and create a job description, what would it look like? You learn a lot from people when they answer that question. I like to ask them who’s been the best manager they’ve ever had and who’s been the worst manager they’ve ever had — not their names, of course, but their qualities.
Another question I ask all the time is, if everyone here was a C.E.O. and I was to make you the C.E.O. of something on Day One, what would you be the C.E.O. of? I ask that because I like to get a sense of what you feel so passionately about that you want to own. I also try to ask questions that get at cultural fit. Can you laugh at yourself? I’ll ask them to tell me about their friends or their kids, and say, “Who’s your wackiest friend?” And usually, “who’s your wackiest friend” tells you a lot.
Q. What are some experiences, good or bad, that influence the way you lead?
A. Like a lot of people, I’ve worked in companies before with what I call a “stump a chump” culture — where you ask a question, someone answers and then the whole group piles on. I’ve been on management teams that have done that, and it’s very toxic.
Q. Can you elaborate?
A. Stump a chump is when a C.E.O. or a leader will throw out a question and somebody will offer an answer. But nobody else has the courage to answer, and yet, everyone then critiques the answer that the one person offered. Or you do something creatively and then everyone else in the company calls out what they would change, yet they haven’t put either the professional or the personal passion behind actually creating something of value.
As a leader, you’re not only an amalgamation of the best practices you’ve seen, but also an amalgamation of the things that you’ve loathed in other organizations.